Colonel (Res.) Dani Shapira spent most of his life flying and working in the field of aviation, and was among the first pilots of the IAF and its first test pilot
Noami Zoreff | Translation: Eden Sharon
Colonel (Res.) Dani Shapira dedicated his life to his greatest love: flying. Today he celebrates his 90th birthday after being one the first pilots of the IAF and leading groundbreaking missions as the first Israeli test pilot.
Colonel (Res.) Shapira first became enchanted with the idea of flying when he was eight years old and saw planes flying around his house in Haifa. “I think I noticed the pilots and thought to myself that this is what I want to become. From that moment on I never stopped thinking about it”, he says. When he was 14, he joined the “Hagana” (Jewish paramilitary organization operating during British Mandate in Israel), and a year later became a member of the Israeli Aviation & Space Club, and started practicing flying gliders. Thanks to his talent, he was later appointed an instructor in the club and eventually received a scholarship to study motorized flying.
After the decision to establish the State of Israel was made, all the holders of flying license in Israel, including Dani Shapira, received requests to arrive to a convention in Tel-Aviv. “They started teaching us basic aviation so we would have some clue as to how planes fly”, he recalls. “Later, we become an underground air force, and under the guise of being a flying club, we performed spying sorties and flew ‘Hagana’ officials from place to place”.
One morning, Colonel (Res.) Shapira received a message saying he had been selected to join an advanced combat pilot course in Czechoslovakia. “We left for the course two days before the declaration of the State of Israel and were not even sure we would be able to come back. I thought of my parents who I had left behind, but I said to myself I must study in order to become a pilot in the Israeli Air Force and help win the war”.
From Rookie Pilot to IAF Legend
After the course in Czechoslovakia, the cadets completed their training in Hatzor Airbase, and received their pilot wings. From that moment up until the moment he stopped flying at the age of 72, Shapira accumulated more than 12,000 flight hours. Shapira set and broke many records, such as being the Israeli pilot who flew the largest number of airplane models. He was in charge of the integration of 76 Mirage fighters into the IAF, and supervised their operation. “I think that the biggest triumph of the IDF is the Mirage”, he says. “I feel privileged to have been on the team who inspected and recommended its acquisition, and I can’t be prouder”.
In recognition of the fruitful cooperation with France, the French government gave the IAF a unique gift: the opportunity to send two Israeli pilots to a training course for test pilots. Colonel (Res.) Shapira was lucky to be a part of it along with friend Hugo Marom, and Shapira became the first test pilot in the IAF. In 1996, when an Iraqi Mig-21 pilot defected and landed his plane in Israel, it was Shapira who was tasked with studying the plane and flying it.
And what was the peak in the career of the old pilot? “I don’t have a peak in my carrier. My 75 years of flying were one great continuous record”, says Colonel (Res.) Shapira. “I always felt that I was doing important things. I was filled with pride every time I wore my uniform, insignia and blue pilot wings with the Star of David on them”.